Policy support needed to stop urban flooding

09:05, July 29, 2011      

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"A view of the sea in the cities" is a popular saying online this summer after torrential rain drenched cities like Shijiazhuang and Zhengzhou on July 26. According to statistics released by the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, 62 percent of Chinese cities have suffered urban flooding from 2008 to 2010.

As the chances of extreme weather increase, the standard for urban drainage system seems to be rather low. Because of insufficient investment and historical debt, the construction of the city drainage network has lagged behind urbanization.

City drains, pipe networks and pumping stations are not well planned. The drainage systems were not scientifically designed and are small in scope. At present, the drainage systems in cities above the provincial level are of one year return or two year return period, let alone those in lower level cities.

The rapid development of cities lies in stark contrast to the underdevelopment of the underground drainage system, which is beyond repair. In recent years, urban development has been carried out at top speed, with increasingly large investment, expanding scale, skyscrapers, broad avenues and large squares. Under these circumstances, urban flooding cannot be simply explained as "a technical problem."

A lot of Chinese cities have made efforts to cure this chronic disease, but achieved few effects in the repair of seepage points and network renovation. For instance, the mayor of Zhengzhou made an open apology for urban flooding last year and the city started to repair the seepage points afterwards. But the repaired seepage points still could not withstand the torrential rains this summer.

We need to take the measure of patching up when dealing with urban drainage system, the city's artery. Stopgap measures will not produce lasting effects as past experiences show. The treatment of urban flooding calls for a long-term plan and responsibility as well as a sound public administration and emergency response mechanism.

In addition, urban flooding is a "systematic disease," which involves planning, traffic, water resources and meteorological factors. Combined strength can only be formed through the establishment of a set of communication and coordination mechanism. The combination of drainage and water storage needs investment of money and technology, and more importantly, the concerted effort of all the departments concerned.

Measures Wuhan has taken are quite thought-provoking. The city's discipline inspection commission circulated a notice of criticism for the person-in-charge on July 21 that the chief of water affairs bureau got administrative warning and the deputy chief sacked.

Such an accountability system touched the root of urban flooding. The slow underground construction, in the final analysis, reflects the fact that some persons in charge are eager for quick success and instant benefit. They are more likely to pay attention to the urban changes and the rapid growth of economic indexes, which could bring them opportunities for further promotion. It is impossible for them to attach great importance to, make deep research on and find a quick solution to the "invisible projects."

What we need for dealing with urban waterlog is conscientiousness for urban prosperity and people's happiness, rather than money and technology. The change of some cadres' achievement view also needs support from relevant policies and regulations. We need to change the current check up system that heavily relies on GDP growth and make "invisible project" such as drainage system the "official achievement." That is the best way to satisfy the impulse of those in charge of urban management to seek achievement.

"The sewer is the conscience of the city," French writer Victor Hugo wrote in 1862 of Paris' sewers. Now, more than 100 years later, his words still carry realistic significance. A wave of renovation and rebuilding of the urban drainage system would be carried out after the chaos triggered by torrential rain. Those in charge of urban management must observe the principle of "achievement may not be necessarily made during my tenure" and being responsible for the public and the future. Only through these ways can we find the root cause of the problem and realize the goal of "better city, better life."

By Zhang Xinyi, People's Daily Online

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